We were looking forward to the final race of the Indy Series. The championship was going to be decided. Although Dario Franchetti (Ashley Judd’s husband) was in the points lead, Will Power still had a chance to win the title. This was to be Danica Patrick’s final Indy race. She already made a decision to move to NASCAR next season. As with the final outcome of any sports season, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation for this race.
We logged in to watch the race online just as an horrendous accident was unfolding in the eleventh lap. Cars and debris were flying everywhere. Several cars were on fire. It was awful chaos. Fifteen cars and drivers were involved. Twelve drivers walked away. Three were transported to the hospital for observation. One, Dan Weldon, was airlifted. His family, including his wife and two small sons, were taken to the hospital. Sadly, he died from unsustainable injuries. It’s a devastating loss.
I’ve been thinking about how a celebrity’s death impacts us since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died October 5. While I didn’t know Steve Jobs personally, we were at the same high school at the same time. We had classes together. He was only a year older than me. I’ve been using Apple products since the 1980s. I’m actively involved developing apps on iOS devices. What struck me, however, was the tremendous outpouring of grief and connection by so many who never knew Steve Jobs. And it goes beyond his contributions to devices and services that have changed our lives.
Dan Weldon’s also untimely death is also niggling my thoughts. We acknowledge that death is universal. Even when a death is anticipated, like with Steve Jobs, we still are never fully prepared. Every death resurrects past grief, sometimes not related to people at all. There are no short-cuts to grief or right ways to grieve. It’s a process that we just go through. While someone’s death may be in private, the impact of that death touches many … sometimes casting a sad pall far beyond the immediate circle of that person’s life.
A celebrity’s death does receive greater publicity than what you or I may receive. We will hear more about that person and how their life has impacted others, maybe even learning more personal details of their life. Their death gives us permission to talk publicly about the difficult subject of death and an opportunity to publicly mourn. Their death binds us together in a common experience.
As a pastor, I was witness to hundreds of deaths, invited into an intimate experience and asked to lead services celebrating someone’s life. What I learned is that, in some ways, each person is a celebrity to some circle of people. Not every life is lived in as public an arena as others, but every life matters somehow. A celebrity’s death just reminds us.